In a male-dominated career, Hind Wajih has managed to break the mold and become the first certified female bodyguard in Egypt and the Middle East. Despite the hurdles she has faced, Wajih's insistence on pursuing a profession of her own volition has given many like-minded women a passport to such a career.
Actually, there are many Egyptian women who work as security officers at various companies, shopping malls and other places. There are also female police officers. But being a bodyguard has always been a man's career — that is, until Wajih successfully broke through.
"Since [a young] age, I have been obsessed with all types of martial arts. I started practicing karate, taekwondo and aikido in a nearby youth center when I was 14 years old," Wajih told Al-Monitor. "Though girls, in general, are underrepresented in martial arts, I kept going."
Wajih, who has a degree in physical education, did not lead a cozy life when she was young.
Once her school day was over, she would hurry to the youth center to participate in training sessions. Following the sessions, she would make her way to the pharmacy where she worked as a salesperson since age 15 to bear her responsibility toward her family.
"A complete sense of responsibility was instilled in me early; in fact … this helped me a lot," Wajih recalled.
There are multiple, deep-rooted cultural traditions and social norms that have hampered many women from landing their dream jobs, particularly in Egypt's conservative society. Wajih's family, nonetheless, turned blind eyes to these stereotypes and supported her in reaching her full potential.
"My family [has always trusted] me. For instance, my family members allowed me to work at the pharmacy till midnight. This was because they highly trust me and know that I can physically protect myself," she said.
At first, Wajih was interested in martial arts solely for self-defense. But later on, her success at defensive arts was an indicator that she could become a professional bodyguard. So she started to physically prepare herself for that career.
Wajih attended several nearby gyms, asking to take part in bodybuilding programs. Due to the conservative nature of the area where she lives, many gyms rejected her request, saying that bodybuilding sessions are for men only.
"Women are not allowed to be trained among men there,” Wajih said, adding that while there are physical training sessions targeted at women, they focus only on fitness and how to get in shape. “But I was in dire need of bodybuilding sessions," Wajih said.
Wajih eventually managed to persuade one gym's coach to let her train among males, and she was the first female to do so. Her workout included lifting weights, running and other exercises.
She pointed out that many women erroneously believe that muscle-building programs will distort their physical features and harm female anatomical traits. "This only occurs when a female takes certain hormones to swiftly get strong muscles. This absolutely will change her physical shape. For me, I just regularly consult a nutritionist along with the training sessions," she said.
These sessions were Wajih's stepping-stones to the career she always aspired to. Fully aware that being a bodyguard is more than having great muscles and being in top physical shape, Wajih decided in 2014 to apply for a private security company position to hone her defensive skills. Thus began her practical life.
"I was the first female to apply for a bodyguard position. Reviewing both my physical and academic qualities, the company decided to give me a chance. I felt that my dream started to come true," Wajih said.
The first mission was assigned to her when she was only 28 years old. She, along with the company's male bodyguards, was responsible for guarding a huge conference attended by several actors, singers and other celebrities.
"Though this was my first mission and I was the only female on the team, I was not confused at all. Self-confidence is the secret to my success," said Wajih.
With her limitless dreams, Wajih wanted to become the first certified female bodyguard. Continuing to break the taboo, she submitted her papers to a security institute affiliated with Egypt's police academy almost five months ago.
The experience she gained from working at the security company prompted the institute to accept her application. "My photos wearing the bodyguard's uniform have garnered their admiration," Wajih said.
There, she learned how to handle weapons and give first aid. According to Wajih, her defensive tactics along with sense of judgment were greatly improved. "I was trained among police and army officers, including special forces officers. This is exactly what I was dreaming of," she said.
Wajih soon became certified and continued to trample stereotypes. Germany's International Bodyguard Association also honored her.
An attacker subconsciously deals with women as the weaker sex and so is usually shocked by a tough and sudden counterattack. Therefore, female bodyguards can be exceptional. Their ability to react swiftly and their physical flexibility helps them to excel in the profession.
Wajih has managed to shatter two stereotypes: She has entered a male-dominated career, and she is now the first female to coach males in fitness courses.
"I am the fitness trainer of a soccer team. At first, the players would not accept being trained by a girl. But later they discovered that my sessions have improved their performance," Wajih said.
"I have shared videos on self-defense techniques on my Facebook account. Many girls have already asked me to give training courses, and I will make this [one of my] priorities."
Wajih's dreams have not yet ended. She wants to participate in action movies and become a member of the presidential guard.
"I just want to send out a certain message. Women can do anything. … Expect more from Egyptian women in the coming years."